Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma Supreme Court of India (2013)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination

Ms. Indra Sarma, an unmarried woman, left her job and began a “live-in” relationship with Mr. V.K.V. Sarma for a period as long as 18 years, despite knowing that he was married. Mr. Sarma abandoned Ms. Sarma in a state where she could not maintain herself. Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, failure to maintain a woman involved in a “domestic relationship” amounts to “domestic violence.” Two lower courts held that Mr. V.K.V. committed domestic violence by not maintaining Ms. Sarma, and directed Mr. Sarma to pay a maintenance amount of Rs.18,000 per month. Thereafter, on appeal, the High Court of Karnataka set aside the orders of the lower courts on the ground that Ms. Sarma was aware that Mr. Sarma was married and thus her relationship with him would fall outside the protected ambit of “relationship in the nature of marriage” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. On further appeal, the Supreme Court, while affirming the High Court’s order, created an exception to the general rule. The Supreme Court clarified that a woman who begins to live with a man who is already married to someone else, without knowing that he is married, will still be considered to be in a “domestic relationship” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; thus, the man’s failure to maintain her will amount to “domestic violence” within the meaning of the Act and she will be eligible to claim reliefs such as maintenance and compensation. This case is important because it established for the first time such an exception and calls for legislative action to protect women like Ms. Sarma whose contributions in a joint household are often overlooked.